Anis Amri, the man who had driven a lorry through a crowded Berlin market on Monday, killing twelve people and injuring scores more, was shot dead by Italian police in Milan after an altercation yesterday. There are many unpleasant elements of this week’s continental episode, but one that might have a lasting effect involves the fact that Amri travelled through France before getting caught in northern Italy. He was able to do this because of the Schengen Agreement, an agreement which has meant since March 1995 that a large swathe of western Europe has de facto no borders.
Schengen was already in trouble before this all happened due to the Syrian refugee crisis, but it is now looking very grim for the agreement after the Berlin-Milan moment. Populists have jumped all over this, as expected.
“This escapade in at least two or three countries is symptomatic of the total security catastrophe that is the Schengen agreement,” said Marine Le Pen. “I reiterate my pledge to give back France full control of its sovereignty, its national borders and to put an end to the consequences of the Schengen agreement.”
Farage wasn’t about to miss the moment either.
“If the man shot in Milan is the Berlin killer, then the Schengen Area is proven to be a risk to public safety. It must go,” the eternal leader of UKIP tweeted.
The problem for Schengen is that it now seems like the utopian product of a more innocent era in Europe. It chimed with the mood of the 1990s, when history was “over” and large scale crises such as millions of migrants moving through the continent seemed unthinkable.
The problem for the EU in regards to Schengen is what to do about it. While scrapping it might help to save the Union from being devoured by populist politics, to do so would demonstrate a project that is visibly going in reverse – something which might perversely help populism on the continent even more.
Like all things in relation to the European Union, much depends on what happens to France in 2017. If France leave Schengen then others will certainly follow. If enough of them do so, the agreement effectively becomes null and void.
I recall immediately after the events of September 11th, 2001, a common mantra throughout the West was “we can’t let the terrorists win”. In other words, let us stay strong and continue to live our lifestyles in an open, liberal manner. But these were empty words. The terrorists do change things, like it or not, and Anis Amri – a young Tunisian criminal – could change the destiny of European politics, all through one act of terror.